Friday, September 19, 2014

sketchbook no. 13

The other night at Red Fox, Ryan, Mikiel, Allison, and I were looking at photos we had taken over the past few years. We all had our phones out, cooing over memories and hair cuts. A few nights before that, my friend Greg, a friend from high school visiting Portland, had sat on the edge of my bed and scanned my photo album. He asked about some of the newer photos, made jokes, inquired about friends. Then we flipped through the older photos from high school. Do you remember her? Remember when this happened? Did you ever do this while at ASFA?

We looked through the photos I had taken out of Tony, talked about him and his art and his life and his death and that time he slapped me and that time we thought about running away to Manhattan together.

Why don't we do that? Have little photography viewing sessions. Particularly with printed photographs. I love printed photographs. I miss having little prints all over my house.  Growing up, our foyer was devoted to photographs of family, hanging on walls and collecting dust in frames on the top of the piano.

I propose asking little groups of friends to submit photo albums of their favorite photos. Let's print everything. Then we ask that group of friends to come in, sit on a couch, look at photos, and reminisce. And we'll do little groups of this all night long. We can look through everyone's photos and watch friends share memories and hear all the secret histories of these prints. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mid-Autumn Festival

It started with champagne. Adam and I chopped vegetables, cut meat, with glasses of champagne next to our cutting boards: asparagus, mushrooms, spring onions, chicken, and quail eggs. Greg stood behind us at the stove, a wok cooking “Cola Chicken,” some recipe he had brought back from China. Luke started the fire in the pit outside.

I didn’t even get drunk that night but the moon was so beautiful, what little we saw of it, above the building next door, through the leaves of the tree. 

And it was so orange and round, so close, it seemed like we could just walk up to it. Climb a ladder onto the roof to get closer.

Chang’e found herself floating up to the moon, leaving her husband Houyi behind.

Greg told us the story of the moon goddess who found herself immortal but lonely on the moon with just a jade rabbit for company. Though he lives in Beijing now, Greg and I had gone to high school together. Birmingham, Portland, Beijing. The moon was round, the eighth full moon of the Chinese calendar and we were celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lee and her boyfriend were there, too: another friend from high school and her boyfriend, a man who had grown up in Birmingham with us but whom I had never known. 

Bench by bench we sat around the fire, orange silhouetted against we only knew was around us: plants and spiders and crickets and racoons watching us, ready to invade after we retired to the house. Greg and Ryan. Misti and Allison. I kissed Adam. Daniella and Ryan came out. Luke and Alisa helped make dinner. They had all just arrived back from a camping trip, just in time for the festival. Daniella’s friends from Vancouver were visiting.

Chang’e and her jade rabbit.

Adam’s roommates groaned when I told them I had bought moon cakes. I’m not sure anyone really loved the moons cakes. Except maybe me. Like a Fig Newton filled with lotus paste or red bean paste or date paste, they’re solid and sweet, brick-like. I don’t even mind the egg yolk baked into the middle.

And they look so perfect in their red packages, not sealed because they last forever, the tops of each cake decorated with the art nouveau impressions of Chinese characters and design.

I bought a string of paper lanterns set on a line of Christmas lights for six dollars at the Japanese market going out of business.

Greg had suggested we celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. Adam and his roommates remembered celebrating in China. The rest of us were experiencing it for the first time, here in Portland, by a string of cheap lights and a fire with moon cakes and the Chinese barbeque Adam was busy seasoning. It was Sunday and there was plenty of wine.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Six years in the sunset

He said, “I don’t approve of this.”

He was looking at the fox head mounted on the wall above him, its tiny dark eyes fiercely looking down at us.

A lot of foxes, painted, drawn, photographed, can be found on the walls here at the Red Fox.

I agreed with the stranger, ahead of me in line for the single restroom in the bar, and added that I didn't think the owners hunted and stuffed this head themselves. They don’t seem like the types. It was probably gifted to them.

From across the bar I heard, “And this is white tea!”

A bartender, a big man, tall, tough but never threatening, showed a bag of tea to his boss. They held their noses to a bag of dried leaves.

During the summer almost everyone crams into the tiny patio to share their drinks. The booths extend down one side of the park. A tin roof protects the patrons from whatever rain there may be in a later season and what bright light it can shield from us now. We spend afternoons watching the sun patiently set behind the West Hills, beautiful sunsets painful in our squinting eyes.

When I first moved here, is this what I thought Portland would be like, almost pastoral as much as a city can be. Visitors sometimes complain about suburban Portland can be, and though I never think of it as suburban, it does have a completely different energy than other cities even here on the West Coast.

At six years, I don’t count the days until I have lived here another year.

When I moved here I could not imagine how much my life would change. Today I’m prone to worry how much my life would change. And it will. It all will.

When I moved into the neighborhood, Mississippi Avenue was a still a quaint street with some cool bars, a few coffeeshops, a restaurant or two. Today its blocks and blocks of boutiques and condos and construction. There are two new tea shops. The neighborhood made a store change its insensitive name. The patios at Bar Bar and Prost and Moloko brim every night with loud, drunk, young men and women, bridge and tunnel clientele I can only imagine.

There’s always Red Fox. Everyday I can drink on short patio at Red Fox where one bartender studied linguistics in college and that guy just finished building a banjo and this other one collects vintage detritus. He handed me a paper page torn from an old magazine, an advertisement for Columbia Music House promising me twelve free CDs. And we remembered and looked through the listings and said, Whoever bought this CD? and Wow, I remember when this was popular.

But if Ryan were to leave Portland, if Mikiel or I were to move out from our apartment building, would I hold office hours (those hours after work) at Red Fox as often? I might find a new bar. I buy cheap wine to eat with my meals instead, watching documentaries on Netflix before reading a little and turning out the light.

The nights are cold now this week and it smells like fall when I wake up, the windows open, the apartment a mixture of damp earth, fir trees, coffee, and the lilies Adam gave me. Soon enough it will be raining in Portland, Oregon again, but the patio is covered at Red Fox.